Heads, my novel, was published a few days ago for Kindle, iPhone, iPad and other reading devices. It’s about the adventures of an Irish artist and his comrades in California. The first thousand words or so of it are below. Download more via the links at the end. You can read the complete novel on your computer with the free Kindle app. Heads costs $2.99 to download.
Attacked by a priest — an Irish priest — in broad daylight, in a pub in Berkeley. Jazz cowered in the back of a taxi, his painter’s overalls were ripped, his face hurt and the inside of his mouth stung and tasted of blood. The taxi was taking him to San Francisco, trundling down San Pablo Avenue in the early evening traffic. It was sunny, tee-shirt weather, but he was cold, shivering, hunkered down in the middle of the back seat, glancing at the doors to make sure they were locked. That priest could pounce again. He should never have had anything to do with him.
His first impression was that the man was a basket case, or at least not the full shilling. That was the day Jazz and his roommate Kirby came over to the Berkeley Flea market from San Francisco. That was a few months ago, a sunny March Sunday, warm as summer. Flowers bloomed everywhere and young women smiled at them. Jazz even remarked that it was a special kind of a day. As they walked across Ashby intersection, a vehicle hooted and the driver waved. They saw ‘Church of the Sacred Heart’ emblazoned on the door of the red minibus and Kirby said, “It’s Father Ned.”
A younger Fr. Ned
The van pulled over and Kirby introduced Jazz to a middle-aged Irish priest in a white t-shirt and black Ché beret, which had a little silver cross instead of the star. An older Irishman named Tiny Ford accompanied Fr. Ned. They all shook hands, spoke about the glorious weather and Irish affairs. Jazz read ‘God is Good!’ on Ned’s t-shirt. Kirby admired the transporter and the priest joked that the only way he could get his flock to participate in parish affairs — from church to cemetery — was to bus them there himself.
“The cattle truck I call it,” said Tiny, dabbing sweat from his neck, “Christ lads, but ’tis very warm.”
“It’s a full-time job,” said Father Ned, adjusting his beret, “and I’m kind of rebuilding the parish up again…I’m afraid my predecessor went overboard here and there.”
“A terrible man,” muttered Tiny.
“Very sad,” Ned sighed, “he had a new church almost finished and everything. Beautiful job, spectacular…and then scandal broke. Funds dried up…so I’m trying to build things from the ground again. But I’m afraid we lost a lot of good people.”
“It cost us a fortune,” whispered Tiny and the priest muttered,
“That’s enough Tiny.”
“So how’s the church coming along?” Kirby asked, changing the subject.
“Almost finished,” Tiny coughed.
“The Stations of the Cross is our next big job,” Father Ned said, “I want them painted, a huge mural…sort of like what you’d see in the middle ages…and that will appeal to the Hispanics as well.”
“Mural?” Jazz said.
“That’s right,” said the priest, “They’d be spectacular. If you don’t have a top-class venue today, you won’t be able to hold an audience…there’s a lot of competition out there for souls nowadays…televangelism is ruining everything. It’s a free market, especially here in California.”
“So you want to paint the Stations of the Cross?” Jazz said, offering cigarettes. Tiny and Kirby accepted, the Padre passed.
“They’re lovely painted,” he said, “and they’d be brilliant in the new place…”
“Beautiful place, you should see it,” coughed Tiny.
“I’d be interested in a painting job like that,” Jazz said.
“Really?” Father Ned said, looking closer at him.
“Yeah, I’m an artist. A painter.”
“Is that so? And have you ever done anything like this?”
“Religious work?” Jazz said. After a second he remembered, “I did a Christmas card for the Shamrock’s Football Club.”
“Was it you who did that?” said Father Ned, eyes softening, “God Almighty, that was a gorgeous depiction of the Mother and Child.”
Jazz said thanks. That little card was his first paid art work in America. Inspiration came when he saw a young Palestinian woman sip coffee in Café Nidal. He drew her as the Madonna, gave her a veil and a dimple on the cheek, and then put an infant at her breast. Kirby’s boss, O’Toole the builder, sponsored the design and paid Jazz three hundred dollars for his labor. That was four months ago and he hadn’t done much since then.
Fr Ned's Visualisaton
Jazz and Kirby rode in back of the red bus to Father Ned’s new church, located in the Berkeley foothills. Tiny said the Hazeltons, an old moneyed Catholic family who made their fortune from apple juice, had donated the site. He had often drank it and it was powerful stuff. Organic, added Father Ned, wheeling the bus up in front of the new church, a large round building with a low mushroom roof and a carrot spire. Post-modern, explained Father Ned, Von Traghad was the architect.
The doors were heavy, hammered brass and opened into a marble-floored lobby with alcoves and narrow stained glass windows. Two stone holy water fonts flanked the entrance to the church proper, and Tiny opened the doors like a bellboy. It was the oddest church Jazz was ever in and reminded him of a boxing stadium. The altar wasn’t at the head, as normal, but on a platform in the center, surrounded by circles of banked seats. Tiny pointed at the ceiling, a complicated web of timber beams and supports, with a stained glass spiral that cast colored patches of light on the altar.
“Awesome,” whispered Kirby.
“And the stations will go there,” Father Ned said quietly, pointing to a tall band of smooth plaster that circled the building, about twelve feet from the floor. He led Jazz to the wall and they both stared in silence at the blank ribbon.
“Can’t you just see Jesus up there,” whispered Father Ned, “the Crown of Thorns…Pilate…the heavy wooden cross…warm humid day in Jerusalem…the jeering crowd…that climb to Calvary.”
Jazz nodded, he could see it alright. The Padre explained Von Traghad wanted the stations to begin at the door, continue clockwise around the church in a complete circle. Jazz frowned and had a flash of Michelangelo’s anguished face gazing upside down from a scaffold.
“What’s the budget?” he asked.
“We were hoping to get it done for ten thousand…that’s what the architect estimated. That’s about what the Mexican lad would do it for. And he’s good. Does loads of murals in the Mission.”
“It’s a lot of work. When do you want it done?”
“Soon as possible…I was hoping to have the church consecrated by Papal Nuncio Mahaffy when he comes to San Francisco in May for the Bishop’s Convention.”
“But that’s only a few months away…”
“I know,” said Father Ned, “but it would be a great coup to have Mahaffy open the place…a lot of the big boys will be around for that convention. We could get a lot of mileage out of it and get our name out there in a positive way, for a change.”
Jazz looked around the church. It was years since he had done murals and he had never worked on such a large scale before. He’d chance it. Twelve feet off the ground, he’d need help with a platform and stuff.
“Tiny will look after that,” Father Ned said. “You come up with a blueprint and estimate and we’ll take it from there.”
That’s how it started.
The other J-man
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